James ElveryJames Elvery
(Photo: Triathlon NZ; click to enlarge)

It's all about Christchurch this weekend with the House of Travel Triathlon Festival back for its second year. It's a full day of racing which will finish with an action-packed "Christchurch Casino Elite Cup". The festival's finale is sure to be a stunner, with the spotlight firmly on the myriad of Canterbury elites who are signed up and rearing to go.

James Elvery, a member of the Triathlon New Zealand High Performance Programme, has recently returned from a successful international season, racing in the World Championship Series and footing it with the best of them. With a current world ranking of 67th, the 27-year-old is the highest ranked athlete to put his name in the ring for this weekend's event. In the absence of last years champion Tony Dodds, Elvery will carry the race favorite tag.

Boasting a 2nd place in the Geneva European Cup race and 4th in an Asian Cup event in the Philippines, Elvery has really started to come into his own this year. He's been ever present in the World Championship series, finding himself in breakaways with the likes of the famous British Brownlee brothers, with a best finish of 15th in Madrid.

Summarising his season Elvery said "It's been my best year so far. I've shown that I can swim and bike with the very best in the world. If I can string together the run I know I'm capable of, and have some luck go my way, Olympic selection is not beyond me. Alternatively I've shown I could do the job of a swim bike helper to increase our medal chances."

Elvery will have some young, up and coming triathletes to contend with though. Tom Davison, another local emerging talent will also be on the start line, just a few weeks after showing his strength on the bike at the Barfoot and Thompson Auckland ITU World Cup. The 21-year-old has continued his run up the ranks this year, finishing off a successful 2011 season with a top 20 finish at the Under-23 Elite World Championships.

Last year's winner of the Contact Triathlon Series held at the same venue, Davison knows the course well and will be a contender to take line honours.

"We've all got our strengths and weaknesses over the three disciplines. With the different format of this race tactics are going to be crucial. There will be times when I need to wait to work as a group and other times when I need to try and go alone. We also have to make sure we don't muck around so we can catch the girls who get a good head start on us," says Davison.

Also in contention will be fellow Christchurch under-23 elite athletes Harrison Dean and Mike Phillips.

Dean, originally from Nelson, experienced his first international season this year and is looking to build from it, choosing the "Christchurch Casino Elite Cup" as his first race since arriving back in New Zealand in September.

"My first season overseas was really eye opening and has given me a really good base to work with going into the New Zealand summer.

"Racing in the German Bundesliga, against some of the world's best triathletes, has made me a better athlete and I'm hoping to use that to my advantage this season," says the 21-year-old who's had to battle illness over the past three months but is back on track and looking forward to testing the fitness come Sunday.

Phillips, who had his first taste of World Cup racing in Auckland, will be looking to put what he learnt in that race to good use this weekend. The Canterbury University engineering student, who juggles study, work and training commitments, is another strong cyclist and is sure to be in the mix.

There's a twist to this year's race, not only is it a different racing format not seen before in New Zealand, Event Director John Newsom has also decided to combine both the women's and men's event, the women heading off first with a four to five minute buffer.

"It's a chance to see something very different. At the end of the day, anyone could come out on top," says Newsom.

While there will still be at least $1000 on the line for the first male and female over the line, there will also be an added cash bonus for the first overall athlete.

"This will be great for both the spectators and the athletes. They have no idea themselves how they will go because they've never raced anything like this before and we will be able to watch it all pan out.

"The guys are going to have to work very hard to catch Nicky Samuels who is as strong as many of the guys on the bike leg," says Newsom.

Last year saw a three man breakaway in the men's race which ultimately decided the outcome of the race and if the men are serious about catching Samuels this year's athletes will look to do the same.

It's a short, punchy course and one which will test the abilities of all the athletes. The smooth roads and paved lake-side run course set at the newly developed Pegasus Township will make this course fast and exciting to watch. This is an event like no other and promises to be a great day out.

Don't miss out on this year's House of Travel Triathlon Festival. For more information and late entry details go to www.triathlonfestival.co.nz.